In Thursday night’s finale, titled “Crabs in a Barrel,” Al reassures Earn of the gravity of the two men’s bond. Paper Boi does so as they settle into a flight kicking off the European tour on which the rapper will be opening for headliner Clark County. After several uncomfortable, charged interludes throughout the episode, Al chooses this quiet moment to remind his downtrodden cousin that their loyalty to one another—and the understanding they share as kin, both literal and fictive—matters far more than the industry connections that someone like Clark County’s manager might offer.
“I saw what you did. At TSA. You ain’t gotta say shit. Just know that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Paper Boi says, referencing Earn’s quick decision to stash Al’s uncle’s gun in a different bag to protect the men. “Niggas do not care about us, man. Niggas gon’ do whatever they gotta do to survive, ‘cause they ain’t got no choice. We ain’t got no choice, either. You my family, Earn … You the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a fuck. I need that. Aight?”
The scene is particularly poignant following the multiple debacles that led to the flight. In one, Darius blithely announces that his passport has expired and he needs a same-day renewal. To obtain the new document, he and Earn head to a Jewish-owned passport service, where the teller processing Darius’s passport informs them that his cousin is a renowned entertainment lawyer. Prompted by Earn, who’d taken Al to meet with a black lawyer in the episode’s opening scene, the teller adds that “black people just don’t have the connections that my cousin has. For systemic reasons.” The answer colors the conversation Earn has with Darius as the two men wait for the passport. Anxious, Earn wonders if Al will fire him, and Darius insists that whatever awaits Earn won’t happen until the crew lands in Europe. “Everything’s moving, but he ain’t gon’ never forget to take care of the one’s supposed to provide for, including you,” Darius assures Earn. “But y’all both black, so I mean y’all both can’t afford to fail.”
The juxtaposition of this statement with the teller’s matter-of-fact response—about systemic barriers keeping black lawyers and, by extension, black people, from realizing success—is somber, a hallmark of Glover’s meditative show. If it’s obvious that the system of white supremacy will restrict black people from succeeding within it, Glover implies, what responsibility do black people have to support one another in the hopes of advancing as individuals, as a community? At what point does the burden outweigh the blessing? What are the limits of any community’s ability to rely solely on itself when power continues to be concentrated elsewhere?
To his credit, Glover, who has had a sometimes fraught journey negotiating his own blackness (and gender) in public, doesn’t claim to have the answers. “Robbin’ Season”—and “Crabs in a Barrel,” specifically—wrestles with some of the same questions Glover provoked with the video for “This Is America,” a new song he first performed during his Saturday Night Live appearance last week. As his musical persona, Childish Gambino, Glover sings the stylistically dissonant track as children dance around him, employing moves from body rolls to the South African Gwara Gwara. The scene is jubilant, then haunting, as Glover suddenly shoots the man sitting in front of him. The video ricochets back and forth between these two modes, alternately jocular and macabre.